Today marks the one-year anniversary of our arrival in Nicaragua. An auspicious moment such as this one requires that I make testament to how far God has brought me in my journey. This 50th post on my blog shall, therefore, be a marker post, an ebenezer that bears witness to where I have come by God's help.
My faith has scrambled a lot this year as it tries to define itself in a new cultural context, where the people do not dispute the existence of God and yet feel a constant shame for failing to follow the path they see God dictating. I had trouble finding a church, and spent the first few months adrift and churchless until I decided that I needed to have a church community, even if it wasn't ideal or strongly compelling. Church is the anchor of my week that keeps me from drifting too far from God. When I finally settled down and set my intentions upon regular attendance at the Moravian Creole church down the street, I discovered moments of God's kingdom breaking through in services I had previously found routine and lifeless. Like when the pastor announced, "and now Miss Martha will sing some special music for us," and a tall, slender woman in her 50s gets up and intones with heartfelt sincerity the words of John Lennon's "Let It Be." For the record, the Moravians do not espouse Marian-centric theology. Or, on Children's Day: "Juliet will now recite a poem for us." The little 4-year old girl that lives next door gets up and announces "Happy Mother's Day," to the delight of the audience. Or the congregation that I had only known to sing 100 year old hymns accompanied by an organ playing the pace of a funeral dirge that suddenly springs to their feet and sings a zesty rendition of the Magic Penny song from memory, with corresponding motions.
I have also marked my faith in the observations and responses of my religion students at the two schools. Last week, we were talking about social sins in my 3rd year class, and I was explaining how social sin ultimately came down to hierarchical structures where people at the top abuse their power over the people at the bottom. Climbing upon her soapbox, 17-year-old Yorleni responded with such passion I thought she was disagreeing with me. "Because when judgment comes, you know it's not going to be the people at the bottom with the most to answer for. It's going to be the people at the top, with the power." And her classmate Kent joined in and said, "Then the people at the bottom come up and the hierarchy gets destroyed." Here I raise mine ebenezer.
The symbol of the Moravian church, so ubiquitous in these parts that many children can draw it from memory, constantly reminds me of what I am about here. It features a lamb carrying a flag, as if from battle. The words wrapping around the cross say "Our lamb has conquered. Let us follow him." This image contains two theological tenets I do not normally hold to. The first, symbolized by the lamb, is that Jesus is a sacrifice meant to appease the wrath of God. The second, symbolized by the flag, is that Jesus is a general leading all into violent battle. While these two ideas are not part of my theology, the juxtaposition is something at once ridiculous and beautiful. In the ritual slaughter of the lamb, who would have thought of the lamb being the one who emerges triumphant? What would Braveheart be like if Mel Gibson cast Lambchop in the lead role? It is our vulnerability which conquers. And in a land of unfamiliar cultural constructions, I must look closely and discover that the Spirit of God and my own spirit have always been at home here.
These moments, and a hundred lazy conversations around kitchen tables and park benches, have kept me strong in the faith. I continue to follow Lambchop and her battle cry of freedom.